A group of British nationals, including Christopher Chantrey, who is head of the British Community Committee of France, told a parliamentary select committee in Westminster that the UK should make the first move when it comes to the increasingly thorny issue of the rights of EU citizens in Britain and those of Brits living around Europe.
In her landmark Brexit speech on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May admitted she was reluctant to guarantee the rights of French, Spanish and other EU nationals living in the UK, until she was given similar guarantees about Brits living in France and Spain.
In other words the five million people affected – two million Brits and three million EU nationals living in the UK – are being used as a pawn in negotiations, that will only begin once the British government triggers the famous Article 50.
Christopher Chantrey and Sue Wilson, a British national living in Spain, told the parliament select committee, led by Labour MP Hilary Benn, that Theresa May must make the first move.
“We want something to be done immediately,” said Chantrey. “It is the UK triggering this process. It would be a magnanimous gesture and a good way to open the negotiations, by saying ‘this is what we are going to do for EU nationals in the UK’.
Sue Wilson added: “People are suffering now and people have been suffering since [the referendum on] June 23rd because of fear and anxiety about what is going to happen in the future.
“Whatever needs to be decided needs to be decided soon because these people can’t wait two and half years for the solution,” said Wilson.
“Theresa May needs to act now and that would encourage other countries to reciprocate and would improve relations at the start of negotiations.”
She told the committee that Brits abroad were still British citizens and should be looked after as such by the British government.
Their wish was echoed by Frenchman Nicolas Hatton head of the group “3million” which campaigns for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
“We want the British government to make the first move, because it’s the UK which is leaving the EU and not the other way round,” said Hatton.
The select committee also heard about the real concerns and worries that have blighted Brits living in the EU since the referendum result, namely around healthcare, future pensions and the right to remain in the countries where they have made their home.
“Pensioners are already suffering from the falling exchange rates. They are worried about what will happen to their pensions and their healthcare cover,” said Spain-based Sue Wilson.
“We need to get away from this perception that expats in Spain are all on holiday and have a good income and good standard of living. Many people are struggling financially.
“They are concerned about whether they can stay in the country or whether they will be forced to come back to the UK.”
Chantrey warned the committee that there would be a significant impact on the UK if tens of thousands of British pensioners living throughout the EU were forced to return “homeless, without health cover and with diminishing pensions.”
In October a French parliamentary committee heard similar concerns about the rights of British expats in France post referendum.
In that meeting the British Community Committee of France's Christopher Chantrey told of how some local authorities in France were already acting as though Brexit had happened.
“When Britain leaves the EU then Britons in France will formally and legally no longer be EU citizens,” said Benlolo-Carabot.
“They would be foreigners like all the others. Of course you can imagine the cataclysm that would provoke.”
Speaking to The Local on Wednesday Benlolo-Carabot said: “Of course everything depends on the upcoming negotiations, but the two sides are being very firm and hard in their stances, but they need to find a compromise.
“I completely understand the fears of British citizens living in the EU. A solution needs to be found.”